When Naheed Nenshi was elected in a come from behind victory to become Mayor of Calgary, many pundits were blaring headlines about Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and social media as the reasons for his sudden rise to fame.

While that helped build his momentum, it really just spread a message about a man that was honest, organic and authentic. He just didn’t throw up a Twitter account and website and make some videos the day he decided he wanted to be mayor, he had the accounts rolling long before then.

Christy Clark is the new premier of BC this weekend. She narrowly won her party’s leadership despite a total lack of an authentic social media campaign. She had some very smart people in her campaign quarters, but she just didnt latch on to the platform like Nenshi. (in private messages between myself and those involved in the Clark campaign, it appeared they hadnt even HEARD of the Nenshi model for success)

Like many politicians, our Prime Minister included, Clark’s twitter stream is an rss feed of announcements. A bullhorn broadcasting bullet points and press releases. There is no engagement. None. Not one “@” reply in her entire stream since she decided to enter the race for premier.

Alberta is experiencing a changing tide, just as BC. And, just as BC, the candidates are flocking to Twitter to try and bring their message to the fore. Alison Redford went so far as to announce her candidacy for the Alberta Conservative leadership on her twitter account. The problem? That was her first ever tweet.

If Twitter is good enough to get you elected as leader of your party, shouldn’t it be good enough to engage the electorate and represent your constituents?

TWITTER TIPS FOR POLITICIANS
1. Get on it .. now.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a minister, a backbencher or just an envelope stuffer for the party. Get your social media ducks in a row now and engage with the electorate. Share your ideas, engage in conversations and forward the message of your brand and the party.

2. Dont let anyone do it for you.
Nobody knows the password to Naheed Nenshi‘s twitter account except Naheed. He is the one tweeting. Not an assistant, an intern or the party. HE does it. The same should be true for politicians. I get you’re busy and have a huge portfolio to manage, but a few seconds in your seat before the plane takes off to detail what’s happening, a twitpic of you and your kids at a hockey tournament, or an @ reply to a constituent will go far.

3. Engage.
Your Twitter feed is not a microphone. It is a tool for engagement that works both ways. If you simply blow press announcements and policy points, you are missing the key part of social media – being social.

Can you imagine if, every now and again, Stephen Harper pulled a Steve Jobs and randomly responded to a few tweets? Jobs is famous for responding directly to emails with a few words and the media explodes with the exchanges minutes later. The result? Steve is a human being that listens to the rest of us and doesn’t sit in an ivory tower with no elevator. The exchanges are brief and infrequent, but they happen. Harper doesn’t have to answer every question, the ones he does he can keep to his message, but the authenticity points that would be gained by simply replying to the people would be immeasurable.

SOME GET IT
Since Naheed Nenshi became Mayor, Calgary’s city council has exploded in engagement. Alderman John Mar disappeared for a few months after buckling under the pressure of the immediate interaction, but has was encouraged to return. Richard Pootmans had a very uneffective social media campaign to get elected in Ward 6, but since the election he has become far more interactive via Facebook and Twitter to mine his constituency for feedback.

In the heated unlimited bandwidth battle between Canadian ISP’s, the CRTC and users, MP Tony Clement hasn’t shied away from Twitter. Actually, Twitter has been the place many of the government’s policies on the topic have been first released.

CAN THE SYSTEM BE CHANGED?
2011 promises to be a busy year for elections in Canada. We could see them in BC, Alberta and even the federal government is not entirely stable.

Will the parties toss up social media sites because they think they “have” to, or will they actually recognize the power of influencing the influencers and engage in deep, authentic and real conversations?

In the 2008 Federal Election, only the NDP truly appreciated the power of social media by turning the tools over to the public to spread the message. They had widgets, icons, avatars and more.

David Brodie, a former advisor to Paul Martin, summed up the efforts of the other parties with one word.

“Weak,” he wrote in a chat conducted via Twitter. “All could learn from Gordon Brown and Obama. Should [be] engaging users rather than pushing out their msg with new tools.”

3 full years ago the tools were available, the trails were blazed and the opportunity was there. They’re there, but they’re not being used effectively. Until more game changers like Nenshi enter the sphere, the campaigns will continue to be a blast of same-as-it-ever-was run by professional politicians and party insiders speaking in circular soundbites and avoiding the campaign in full sentences at all costs.

It’s too bad.

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